Stressed out

The greatest weapon against stress is to choose one thought over another”  William James

I took a health evaluation for work the other day. I scored well on choices around activity and diet, but not so well on stress in my life. The test said that my stressors were higher than they should be. What areas provide stress they asked.  Relationships…yes. I don’t see my Grandchildren or my Mother enough. Finances…yes, I did NOT win the powerball this week. Work…yes,,,, I commute to Boston to a major teaching hospital.  And I think my life is great!

This made me start thinking…. What is stress anyway? According to Sonia Lupien, founder of the Center for Studies on Human Stress, there are “common elements to situations that elevate stress hormones in everyone.  The recipe for stress is N.U.T.S.!

Threat to the ego
Sense of Control”¹

If you put that to the test I think you’ll find that one or more of these apply to all circumstances that you find stressful.  But most of them involve everyday circumstances in our lives. The truth of the matter is that without stress, we cant live. It’s our innate protection from “danger”. The “fight flight “mechanism of stress has been hard-wired since prehistoric men were running from…. what did they run from???stock-illustration-8526606-brown-mammoth

The problem is, that our brains don’t know if we are being chased by a dinosaur or stuck in traffic. it will just keep pumping out the stress hormones to keep us ready to protect ourselves. With enough of these hormones over a period of time we get the physical symptoms of chronic stress. These vary from person to person but as we all know can impact weight, cardiac health, sleep, attention and memory.

Attention is interesting because if you are stressed your body tries to protect you by focusing on the problem.  This makes it difficult to focus on anything else. The frontal lobe of our brains is our “thinking” brain while our Amygdala [uh-mig-duh-luh] reacts to stress. So the Amygdala says to the frontal brain,,, “Dont pay attention to anything except what might hurt you, i.e. mammoth or traffic.traffic-1422506-639x426



Memory can also be enhanced by extreme stress such as …we all remember what we were doing on 911. It is burned into our brain. Research shows that a good healthy balance of stress hormones creates the best atmosphere for attention and memory.

So what can we do? We can’t, and don’t want to, get rid of our stressors completely.  Different people have different coping strategies. What will work for one person , will not work for another. Sonia Lupien recommends reconstructing the issue causing us stress. In order to do this, she says that we should take time to ourselves, without stimulation to ponder upon what is causing the stress and what we can do to minimize the Novelty, Unpredictably, Threat to ego and Sense of loss of control.

For example, when my granddaughter is getting ready to attend a new school,  visiting the school, using the playground and meeting the teachers make it more predictable  and less of a novelty.

Ms Lupien reminds us that the opposite of stress is not relaxation but resilience.

Resilience “ rəˈzilyəns| (also resiliency) noun
1 the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness: t
2 the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity

What enhances resilience?  Well, thats another story.  Just remember…  “ Its not the load that breaks you down, its the way you carry it” Lou Holtz

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your stories about things that have caused you stress and how you carry them.

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¹ Retrieved on Jan 12, 2016 from

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